GCC Brokers Power Transfer for Yemen's Embattled Leader

  • by David Elkins (washington)
  • Tuesday, April 26, 2011
  • Inter Press Service

The agreement, which came after last weekend's <a href='http://www.gcc-sg.org/eng/' target='_blank' class='notalink'>GCC</a> meeting in Riyadh, will give Saleh 30 days to step down and allow the opposition to nominate a prime minister to lead a government until presidential elections can be held within 60 days of the signing.

Before negotiators convened last weekend in Riyadh to discuss the political transition, the largest point of contention in discussions over the draft proposal issued by the Saudi-led GCC, of which Yemen is not a member, has come in the form of amnesty for Saleh and his family members — a luxury Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, now in custody, did not enjoy after his ouster on Feb. 11.

While the U.S. publicly supported the removal of Mubarak and has repeatedly called for Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to step down in Libya, U.S. officials have avoided calling for an immediate power transition in Yemen, as is the case with Bahrain. They have, however, articulated strong approval of the latest GCC deal.

'We applaud the announcements by the Yemeni government and the opposition that they have accepted the GCC-brokered agreement to resolve the political crisis in a peaceful and orderly manner,' White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

'We encourage all parties to move swiftly to implement the terms of the agreement so that the Yemeni people can soon realise the security, unity, and prosperity that they have so courageously sought and so richly deserve,' he added.

The demonstrations in Yemen, which began in January, have resulted in over 120 deaths, including the Mar. 18 massacre of 40 protestors by snipers purportedly employed by the Yemeni government. Saleh's removal will mark the third instance of an Arab leader falling to popular demands.

Some analysts have emphasised the importance, however, of the contrasts between the JMP, which does not have complete legitimacy as a negotiating party in the minds of many Yemeni, and other groups that have taken a harder line on the president while protesting in the streets - groups that are unlikely to accept a deal that provides amnesty for Saleh or a transitional government led by the JMP.

But as opposition groups, including the JMP, attempt to form a national unity government out of an inchoate collection of nationalist, tribal and religious interests, the trepidation that many in Washington have felt about what a post-Saleh Yemen and a possible power vacuum will mean for U.S. interests has become a reality.

During his 32-year rule, Saleh's reputation in Yemen's personality- driven politics has been that of an adept political operator, particularly in placing loyalist appointees, many from his own family, in some of the most critical governmental positions - which raises questions about what the extent of the imminent power transition will mean for members of Yemen's all-important military and security establishments and their relationships with the U.S.

Some analysts remain sceptical of Saleh's motivations for signing onto the GCC deal, or whether Yemen has even entered the final act of its own Arab Spring.

'I think the timing has yet to be determined. I don't think the president has exactly endorsed and signed on and said the clock starts today, that I will resign in 30 days. I don't think he's gone that far yet. I think that can drag on for some time. But he will leave,' Christopher Boucek, a Middle East specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in a PBS Newshour interview.

While several members of Saleh's inner circle defected to the opposition last month - most notably General Al Mohsen al-Ahmar, in what some analysts believe may have been a move of political opportunism - the agreement for Saleh's departure will be neither a panacea for the deep political divisions that remain in Yemen nor a guarantee that the demonstrations, and the violence they have elicited, will cease.

'I would be very surprised if all of the protests come to an end after the deal is signed,' Princeton Professor Gregory Johnsen told IPS.

Mohammed Abu Lahoum, sheikh of one Yemen's largest tribes, and Khaled al-Wazir, a former member of the ruling party, the General People's Conference, who have created a new political party, the Justice and Development Bloc will ostensibly represent the opposition groups that have become marginalized by a negotiating process guided by the JMP, making the formation of a national unity government even more difficult.

Additionally, the months of prolonged protests have forced the central government's attention away from other, central issues facing Yemen, eroding its authority in regions where anti-government sentiments run high.

The Southern Mobility Movement, an organisation oriented towards secession, has become more assertive in its calls for the president to step down, even after Saleh suggested that Yemen's new president should come from the south. Similarly, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based out of Yemen, has had months to regroup and exploit the absence of government forces in many parts of the country.

But for many Yemenis, identifying with a certain political party or fretting over U.S. interests in their country is unlikely to be a major priority in the coming months as protests continue to rock cities throughout the country.

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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